Keith Ghormley writes:
People don’t remember sermons. I think that’s not as bad as it sounds….But the sermon is not just a delivery of content and theology. It is about the obedience of faith. As I listen, I’m not supposed be tucking the knowledge bits into my brain for reference, I’m supposed to be listening to Jesus calling his church to follow him and saying “amen” from the heart.
I heartily agree with him on this, but I come to the conclusion from a slightly different angle, so I thought I would post my thoughts. In my mind, the world is a constantly teaching classroom. It unceasingly instructs us to do things contrary to how God would have us do them. Every time we walk out the door, the world tries to sell us something; when we watch television in our own homes, the world tries to teach us its perverted system of morality; and even if we are by ourselves in a forest or something, our flesh kicks in and tries to drift our thoughts away from God.
Preaching, then, isn’t something where we are taught things once and for all, but a place where our minds, hearts, and souls get to listen to God’s teaching. It isn’t so much exactly what is said that is important, but the long-term effect of sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to how he approaches problems, issues, questions, and even the good things in our lives.
To put it another way, our sin has encoded the universe’s true nature–that is, our sin puts a barrier between our being able to perceive of the universe as something made to “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). The Bible gives us the key to decode the world, and preaching is intended to reveal to us the reality that was scrambled by our sin. For example, we learn that our suffering actually produces character and godliness, that servanthood is the actual path to greatness, and that humility is the real source of power–we learn all this from the Bible, even though the world and our own flesh screams out against such ideas, encouraging us to seek the exact opposite paths. So, the more time we spend listening to the Scriptures and listening to people who correctly teach us from the Scriptures, the more we learn to see past the code to the reality beyond.
Two final points: (1) none of this can happen apart from the enlightening of God’s Holy Spirit; (2) incorrectly teaching the Scriptures causes people, over time, to think incorrectly about how to relate to God, and is therefore terribly destructive (this is the reason James comments that teachers will be judged according to a stricter standard–James 3:1). I am doing quite a bit of preaching this semester, and I intend for preaching to be my life’s work (Lord willing, of course), so please pray for me as well as for everyone else who preaches that Paul’s words might be true of us–this is sobering stuff:
1Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.